A veteran of war and athletics

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NINETY-FOUR years young and 15 Comrades Marathon medals to his credit, is the proud story of Sunset Park resident Bill Hill.

MARATHON MAN: Bill Hill proudly displaying the Comrades Marathon tracksuit top he wore when competing in 15 events, the entry number 24, which is his for life, and the 15 medals he received after each race Picture: BOB FORD

Another satisfying achievement he has in his possession is his Comrades number – 24. He explained, “This is the number I was given in my first Comrades and kept it for 10 consecutive years. Once you have done this you keep the number for life. No one can take it away from you.”

Hill’s interest in marathon running started at an early age. Born in the Transkei, he grew up in Harding, which was the home of Arthur Newton, who was then famous for being the first man to run five consecutive Comrades Marathons.

But he was prevented from taking an active interest by World War 2. On leaving school in 1940, he immediately “joined up” at the age of 17 when he became a member of the Natal Field Artillery.

He was not there long before he transferred to the South African Airforce and saw plenty of action in North Africa, Malta, Sicily and Italy. While in North Africa he was seconded to the 8th Army and was involved with the famous “Desert Rats” for six months behind enemy lines. “We saw plenty of action there and that was where I grew up quickly,” he said.

Once the war ended, Hill returned to Durban and married his late wife of 66 years before moving to Johannesburg in 1952.

Hill’s yearning for long distance running never dwindled and he soon joined the well-known Germiston Callies Athletics Club, which specialised in producing marathon runners. An added attraction was that the great marathon runner at the time, Alan Robb, was also a member of the club, as was the well-known Wally Hayward, who ran his last Comrades at the age of 80.

Robb used to train with the newer members of the club and encouraged them to take part in these events.

Being slight of build, Hill was better suited to run long distance events. However, his ambition of running in the Comrades did not happen overnight and he had to be patient. He started by running cross country and track events. The nearest he got to the Comrades at this stage was being a “second” to Newton and other runners.

His patience and hard work was finally rewarded in 1968 when he was deemed ready to take part in his first Comrades Marathon

And so it was that his patience and hard work was finally rewarded in 1968 when he was deemed ready to take part in his first Comrades Marathon. He grabbed his opportunity with both hands and it is now history that he completed 15 such events, the last one when he was 69.

His best result was when he finished the marathon in 84th place out of some 800 runners in slightly more than eight hours in those days. All 15 of his marathons were completed well within the cut off times and his last one at 69 was run in nine hours and 40 minutes.

Hill explained that the Comrades was a tough event and one had to train all year for it. While keeping down a job, he used to start training at 4am before work and then for an hour in the evenings on a daily basis. Before the Comrades, they used to go on at least six eight to nine hour runs to build up stamina and also ran regularly to the Hartebeespoort dam, a distance of 66km.

Hill was also chosen to represent Southern Transvaal as it was in those days in the veterans cross country team for two years.

He said: “I enjoyed it very much and long distance runners are such great guys. The fellowship among them is wonderful the way they help each other during a race.”

Hill still keeps fit by going on regular extended walks.

Hill moved to Port Alfred in 1980 with business interests in Port Elizabeth, and finally retired in 1985. During this time, he continued with his shorter marathon running, having joined the Kowie Striders. He was also included in the Eastern Province masters cross country team for three years.

After settling permanently in Port Alfred, Hill soon became involved in the town’s activities and was elected to the town council for four years.

He also joined the local Moth Shellhole and is one of their longest serving members with more than 50 years.

Hill moved into Sunset Park retirement village eight years ago and has served them as chairman for several years.

Hill still keeps fit by going on regular extended walks.

BOB FORD

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